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Arabic (Levantine) 

Arabic Eastern
Ahlan wa sahlan! – Welcome

Levantine Spoken Arabic is a general term that covers a continuum of spoken dialects along the Eastern Mediterranean Coast of SyriaLebanonJordanPalestine, and Israel. The worldwide population of speakers of Levantine Arabic is estimated at around 20 million people, many of whom are expatriates from countries where it is spoken.

Status

Levantine Arabic has no official status in the countries where it is spoken. It is, however, the de facto national working language in Lebanon. The official language in these countries is Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). MSA is used for official purposes, in education, in the media, and for written communication, while Levantine Spoken Arabic is used in all informal settings, such as in the home, at work, among friends, and in the community. Levantine Arabic is widely recognized throughout the Arabic-speaking world due to the large number of Lebanese and Palestinians living in their midst.

Dialects

The Spoken Levantine Arabic continuum is usually broken up into two major varieties which, in turn, consist of many geographical dialects.

 Dialect
Number of speakers
Where spoken
Worldwide
South Levantine (Ethnologue) 3.5 million Israel and the Palestinian Territories between Nazareth and Bethlehem, in the Syrian Hauran mountains, in western Jordan 6.2 million
910,000 Israel
North Levantine (Ethnologue) 8.8 million Syria 14.2 million
3.9 million Lebanon*
1.6 million Palestinian West Bank and Gaza

*There may be as up to 15 million Lebanese expatriates living outside of Lebanon  but there is no reliable estimate as to how many of them are first- or second-language speakers of Levantine Arabic.

In addition to geographical distinctions, there are differences between urban and rural varieties of Levantine Arabic. In general, the rural dialects are looked down upon, while urban pronunciations are considered to be more prestigious.

Structure

Levantine Arabic shares most phonological, structural, and lexical features with other varieties of Arabic. At the same time, there are differences among Levantine dialects based on geography and urban/rural division.

Sound system

Vowels

There are a few systematic differences between the two Levantine dialects. The table below shows how the three short and three long vowels of MSA are realized (actually pronounced) in the two dialects as compared to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) (adapted from Wikipedia).

MSA phonemes & diphthongs Southern Levantine realization Northern Levantine realization
/a/  [ɑ] or [ʌ]  [ɔ] or [ɛ]
/i/  [e]  [e]
/u/  [o] or [ʊ]  [o]
/a:/ [a:]  [a:]
/i:/ [i:]  [i:]
/u:/ [u:]  [u:]
/ay/ [e:] [e:]
/aw/ [o:] [o:]
    • [ɑ] = a in father
    • [ʌ] = u in plus
    • [ɔ] = o in dog
    • [ʊ] = oo in hook

 

Consonants

There are some differences in the pronunciation of some consonants between MSA and Levantine Arabic. Among them are the following:

 

Stress

Levantine Arabic has retained many of the stress patterns of Classical Arabic.

   Grammar

Like all spoken Arabic dialects, Levantine Arabic has simplified some features of the grammar of Classical Arabic. These simplifications involve the following:

    • loss of case endings in nouns and adjectives
    • loss of the dual number in nouns, adjectives, and pronouns
    • loss of mood distinctions in the verb

 

Nouns, pronouns and adjectives

Below are some distinguishing features of Lebanese nouns, pronouns and adjectives.

  • There are two genders: masculine and feminine. Gender distinctions are made in both singular and plural forms.
  • Nouns, pronouns and adjectives are not marked for case.
  • Nouns are marked for definiteness, as in all varieties of Arabic, e.g., kteeb ‘book, a book”,  el kteeb ‘the book’.
  • The dual number is only used for body parts or when it is necessary to indicate the number two, as when booking two seats on an airplane.
  • The plural is formed either by addition of a suffix or an internal change called “broken plural”,  e.g., sene ‘year’ and sneen ‘years’ , kteeb ‘book’ and kotob ‘books’.
  • Possession is expressed by simple juxtaposition, e.g., in Lebanese Arabic, kteeb lbint means ‘the girl’s book’ (kteeb, ‘book’,  l-, ‘the’, bint ‘girl’).
  • Demonstratives precede the definite article, e.g., hayda el ktéb, literally ‘this the book’,  i.e., ‘this book’.
  • There is a gender distinction between enta ‘you’ (masculine) and ente ‘you’ (feminine). This distinction is not always observed in informal speech.

 

Verbs

The verb system of Levantine Arabic shares most basic features with other Arabic varieties. Some of its most salient features are listed below.

  • Person, number, tense, and aspect are marked by prefixes and suffixes.
  • Subject pronouns are optional since the verb form incorporates information about person and number. They are used only for emphasis.
  • There is one basic stem plus nine derived stems, each with a range of meanings, such as reflexivity, and causativity. Each form has its own set of active and passive participles and verbal nouns.
  • Arabic has a past, or perfect, suffixed conjugation and a non-past, or imperfect, prefixed conjugation. The perfect can refer to present, pluperfect, or future. The imperfect can refer to present, past, or future.
  • Levantine Arabic has lost mood distinctions.
  • Object pronouns are appended to the verb, e.g., sheefa ‘he saw her’ (sheef ‘he saw’ + -a ‘her’).

 

Word order

Subject nouns follow verbs, subject pronouns precede it.

Vocabulary

Like MSA, Levantine Arabic forms words by the application of vowels and affixes to consonant roots, e.g., the root K-T-B underlies kteb ‘book’. Levantine Arabic is strongly influenced by Aramaic which was spoken in the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) before the arrival of Arabic. Unlike MSA that tends to resist borrowing from other language, Levantine Arabic is more open to borrowing words from other languages. It has borrowed words from French, Greek, Hebrew, and English. For instance, thank you in Lebanese Arabic is merci. Palestinian Arabic contains more Hebrew words than other Arabic varieties. Words such as dapres ‘to be or become depressed’, garrep ‘flu’ (from French grippe ‘flu’). Below are the Levantine Arabic numerals 1-10 in romanization. MSA numerals are also given for comparison.

Levantine MSA
1 waahad waahid
2 tneen  ithnaan
3 tleete thalaatha
4 arba’a  arba’a
5 khamse  khamsa
6 sette  sitta
7 saba  saba’a
8 tmeene  thamaanya
9 tesa  tis’a
10  ashra  ‘ashara

 

Writing

Levantine Arabic is rarely written, since Modern Standard Arabic is normally used for written communication. It is occasionally used for captions in cartoons, and transcriptions of spoken language, such as songs, plays, and dialogs. All varieties of Levantine Arabic are written in the Arabic script.

Basic Resources

Levantine Arabic (Wikipedia)
Levantine Arabic (Ethnologue)
OLAC Resources in and about Levantine Arabic

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Arabic?
Arabic is considered to be a Category III language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

26 Responses to Arabic (Levantine)

  1. Maryann

    Hi, is maltese classed as a Levantine Arabic ? It has many similarities.

     
    • Irene Thompson

      It is a descendant of the extinct Siculo-Arabic is heavily influenced lexically by Sicilian, Italian, French, and more recently, by English. Linguistically, Siculo-Arabic, and its descendant Maltese, are considered Maghrebi Arabic.

       
  2. Katie

    Often times, your website has links with wikipedia. May I ask whether you also wrote these wikipedia articles on wikipedia as well?

    Thanks a lot for your help,
    Katie

     
  3. Chabbi Ishac

    Lebanese language or alphabets is not Arabic as people think it is created by the Phoenicians & was adopted by the near by countries, & because of wars, the countries that settled & took over for certain period of times like Romans, turkes, Arabs, French, etc they all tried to take over & change the language, now the Maltese : they are Phoenician people that settled in Matla long long ago, when the Phoenicians were the first sailors who first build ships before any other, one of their settlements were in Malta, there were hardly any one living on this land before this settlement. It is best to google Phoenician history of their language to know that it is not Arabic as people think. Good luck.

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Can you cite the sources of this interesing information?

       
    • Rami

      This information is totally wrong, and it is mainly popular among the Lebanese right parties and Lebanese chauvinists. I come from Tartus a city on the Syrian coast and when I travel to Lebanon nobody can know I’m not Lebanese because of my accent!

       
      • Irene Thompson

        Which information, exactly, are you talking about?

         
        • Rami

          That Lebanese is not Arabic and that it descends from Phoenician.

           
          • Irene Thompson

            What do you mean by saying that Lebanese is not Arabic? Is that your personal opinion? Better consult the literature first.

             
            • Rami

              No I meant the exact opposite! saying that Lebanese accent is different from Syrian is equally ridiculous to saying that American English and Canadian English are two different languages.. the differences are so small and countable, thou the Lebanese accent is used in many Syrian regions.

               
          • Leb

            Yeah, the original poster is saying bullshit. I’m Lebanese, the variants spoken in Lebanon are Levantine Arabic so they’re pretty much mutually intelligible with the variants spoken in Syria, especially the Damascus region (Which my village is closer to). Either case, “Lebanese Arabic” isn’t limited to the Beirut region and Lebanon’s borders have nothing to do with linguistic considerations in the first place.

            By the way, the claim that Arabic is one language is also politicaly motivated by what we call “Arab nationalists”, which is the other extreme side of the spectrum.

             
  4. agatocli

    That is inaccurate, chabbi. People wrongly disseminate this information for political purposes in an effort to identify themselves as non-arabs.

    The Levantine or Lebanese Arabic dialect is the spoken Arabic of the region with an Aramaic substratum. In other words, it is Arabic but it has some Aramaic influence. Maghrebi Arabic, on the other band, is spoken Arabic with a Berber substratum. Maltese is interesting because it is, like has been mentioned, a descendant of Siculo-Arabic, the Arabic spoken in Sicily, Malta, and some regions of Tunisia during Arab and Norman rule of Sicily. Maltese, therefore, is spoken Arabic with a Berber substratum, and additional romance substratum (with the spoken Romance Sicilian being one of the primary influences, which can be seen in its plural form).

     
  5. Yousef

    The numbers in MSA are incorrect.

    They should be spelled in comparison to Levantine like this:

    waahid

    ithnaan

    thalaatha

    arba’a

    khamsa

    sitta

    saba’a

    thamaanya

    tis’a

    ‘ashara

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you very much. We appreciate your help.

       
  6. Judith

    How do you say “peace” in Levantine Arabic? What would the written form look like? Thank you!

     
  7. Levantine dialect

    Check Levantine Dialect youtube channel

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkWN-yLIlPC-A7tY2WIIv9g

     
  8. Madison Wakefield

    I’m doing a project on Arabic for school and I was wondering, what are the people that speak Arabic usually called?

     
    • Irene Thompson

      It depends on the country. In Egypt they are called Egyptians, in Iran they are called Iraqis, in Syria they are called Syrians, etc.

       
      • Irene Thompson

        People of Iran are called Iranis, not Iraqis.

         
    • Irene Thompson

      Arabic is spoken in many countries. We call people who speak Arabic as “speakers of Arabic”. Depending on their citizenship, we refer to them as Algerians, Tunisians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Lebanese, and so forth. Hope that answers your question.

       
  9. xe-toyotalandcruiser.blogspot.com

    Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your site is extremely helpful.
    Thank you for sharing!

     
  10. Ariel Barrera-Haddad

    People that speak arabic as first tongue belong to the arab culture because the language is the support of the cultures, therefore must be called as Arabs or Arabians, keep in mind I don´t meant from arabian peninsula, but for the Arab Culture, it is like English speakers are called Anglosaxons, Spanish speakers are called Hispanics, french speakers are called francophones, therefore Arabic speakers are Arab people, it doesn´t matter skin color, eyes color, completion, hair type, those references to classify people are racist and must be sent to the trash.

     
    • Irene Thompson

      We should make sure that when we use the word “speaker of language X” we mean that language X is the speaker’s native/primary language and that the speaker identifies him/herself as being a member of culture X. For example, speakers of English are called anglophones, speakers of French are called francophones. Canada is an excellent example of official use of these terms.

       

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